Scoping CeMAT

Not an hour’s drive inland from Almerìa through the mud coloured mountains is CeMAT, the home of solar energy research in Spain. A few hours west are the sun loungers and chippies of the Costa Del Sol, but in Almerìa, the smiles are broader and the English more broken (though not as damaged as my Spanish). This may be where Club 18-30 fears to tread, but the climate is ideal for the CeMAT scientists to catch some rays.


Agriculture in Spain is about control of water and sunlight. On the jouney from Malaga, we drove past acres of covered crops, tents filling the valleys between the mountains like giant summer music festivals for plants. Stopping for directions en route to CeMAT, one side of the road was home to old vines and new saplings; the other side was a stony desert. So we arrived with the aims of Mitravitae in mind: taking energy from the sun and rejuvenating the soil. The evidence of the necessity of water for life was, if not all around us, then certainly on the southern side of this particular road.

We drove around CeMAT looking at the various research projects. It was reminiscent of the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. The heat, the clear and brilliant sky, and space-age looking machines, practical tools for achieving remarkable dreams. It is a little disappointing to learn that the facility doesn’t feed electricity back into the grid and the solar desalination units aren’t run on a commercial scale. On the other hand, this entire project has had a massive impact across the solar industry in Europe and beyond.

No trip to a solar concentrator would be complete without holding a heavy steel tile with a hole burned clean through the centre by a focussed beam of sunlight. We are assured it took only a minute to burn a hole about the width of an orange through the quarter-inch thick metal. Elsewhere on site, a tower carries the black scorch marks of a solar beam concentrated where it shouldn’t have been, and an array produces a ball of energy, like a second sun, in mid air over the facility. Outside the car, the air is noisy with birdsong, even though the various concentrators, mirrors and reflected beams of sunlight must make the airspace over CeMAT a hazardous place to fly through.

What is the value of coming to a place like this? Well, one cannot help but feel inspired and excited to see things up and running, ideas made practical, to know that what looks good on paper also looks pretty smart when you go out and build it. Solar energy is a reality – it works. Hopefully, these solar arrays and concentrators will become a familiar sight in sunny climates, but like any industry, it needs people with ideas to come in and refine it, make it better, make it more efficient and more profitable. Mitravitae isn’t inventing the wheel, but with what I’ve seen today, I’m tempted to suggest we might have invented the axle.

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